February 05, 2015

Mona Lisa copy in warehouse

The Mona Lisa, one of the most famous paintings from the Renaissance. Credit: Jesus Belzunce Gomez / Flickr Creative Commons

The Sistine Chapel, Galileo’s scientific discoveries, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and Machiavelli’s political writings were all great achievements of the Renaissance.
 
But what were the essential ingredients of that famous era of art and innovation? And can Italy recreate its winning recipe today?

Turns out, the first key ingredient was finance. By the 14th century, the economic foundations of the Renaissance – such as the first banks – had been laid. “We had a lot of innovative financial instruments, a lot of new routes for exporting and exchanging goods,” says financier Fulvio Conti.
 
The Catholic Church also helped fuel the Renaissance, using art and architecture as forms of communication. “The pope needed to show that the powerful church was capable of deploying majestic, triumphal buildings and promote art to give guidance to the smaller citizens,” explains Conti.
 
Innovation had its upsides for the Church, but it also opened the door for scientific advancement – which threatened the Church’s power. The subsequent Inquisition, Conti argues, played a role in slowing the Renaissance.

Flash forward to today, and many good ideas have failed to evolve into modern Italian success stories.
 
“We had many ideas, from [the] telephone…[to] we inspired the founder of Starbucks. But why didn't Italy create Starbucks?” asks Luigi Capello, a startup investor and co-founder of Luiss EnLabs.
 
The U.S. continues to have the advantage in the startup world, Capello says, in terms of capital and business infrastructure. However, he believes that one of Italy’s fundamental weaknesses could be turned to its advantage: “In this country, we have many young people, they can not find many jobs. And so, to create startups is the trend in this moment.”

Kick-starting a 21st century Renaissance may require a primal model.  
 
“You have to be inspired by evolution. Nature never had any separation among disciplines like physics, chemistry, biology. I think the interdisciplinarity of science at the moment is the key factor for success in innovation,” says Roberto Cingolani, the scientific director at the Italian Institute of Technology.
 
Finding that delicate balance is the key if there’s any hope for a Renaissance reboot.

Business, Renaissance, Jeff Tyler, innovation

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